- Education and Science
Countess Bathory: A Portrait of Evil
Historically, it has been men who have been the most prolific serial killers. But strangely enough, it’s a woman who tops the list and believed to have racked up as many as 650 victims. She was Countess Elizabeth Bathory, later to be known as the “Blood Countess.” Although she has been labeled the most prolific female serial killer in history, the fact is still controversial.
Bathory was a Hungarian born in 1560. She and several accomplices were accused of torturing and killing hundreds of girls. The official tally was 80 murders but, the countess kept a registry, in her own handwriting, which listed at least 650. However, Elizabeth herself was never put on trial. Her relationship with Polish and Transylvanian royalty saw to that. A trial and execution would have caused a public scandal.
Researchers believe she became a monster partly because of her early upbringing in an atmosphere of unimaginable horrors. As a young girl she was witness to unspeakable acts of torture perpetrated upon the local peasantry by her father and his officers. One historical account tells of Elizabeth being present while a thief was sewn into the stomach of a dying horse and left to die.
Therefore, it’s no surprise Elizabeth turned out the way she did. And despite being a member of the privileged class, life was not easy for her. She experienced fits, had uncontrolled rages and had a proclivity for inflicting pain, mostly on young girls. Some believe she was an epileptic.
She was also promiscuous, getting pregnant at age 14 by a peasant, shortly before her marriage to aristocrat Count Ferencz Nádasdy at 15. Nadasdy was a soldier and was away from home most of the time, which gave the countess ample opportunity to commit her crimes in his absence.
Nadasdy was also known for his cruelty. It was rumored there were strains of madness running through both powerful families. Báthory’s aunt was said to be a witch and an uncle, a Satan worshiper. Her brother was a known pedophile and her childhood nurse dabbled in black magic.
Despite her rank, life at her castle home became unbearably boring. Her small domain was relatively rural and populated by simple farmers and peasants. To occupy her time she surrounded herself with people who shared her interests…those who claimed to be witches, sorcerers, seers, wizards, alchemists and others in league with the Devil.
Historical documents record some of her sadistic penchants such as piercing her victim’s lips and fingers with needles or stripping them of their clothes, dousing them with water and tossing them out into the cold to freeze to death. One account tells of Bathory savagely clubbing a servant girl for hours simply for stealing a pear. The servant’s horrifying ordeal ended when Bathory finally stabbed her to death with a pair of scissors.
Bathory often used accomplices to help with her sadistic practices. Countess Elizabeth Bathory was truly an evil person…evil enough to inspire famed author Bram Stoker to write the legend of Dracula. But, although Elizabeth Bathory was a real person, it is difficult for historians to separate fact from fiction.
Ironically, the countess was an educated woman, fluent in four languages and there were several occasions where she was said to have intervened on behalf of destitute women. One was a woman whose husband was captured by the Turks and another whose daughter had been raped.
One legend about Bathory is she drank and bathed in her victims' blood believing it would keep her looking young. Perhaps, that explains the tales of her being a vampire. It is said Countess Bathory discovered her "secret of eternal youth" when spattered blood from a beaten servant seemed to improve the complexion of her skin.She consulted with her alchemists, witches and other cohorts to determine whether blood was responsible for the miraculous result. Naturally, they concurred, being in fear of the vindictive countess. Armed with this revelation she roamed the countryside at night searching for young girls. They would be hung, naked, upside-down. Then their throats were slit and blood drained for her baths.
There are doubts as to whether Bathory actually bathed in or drank blood. This legend appeared in print about 1729, written by a Jesuit scholar which was the first written account of the Bathory case. In the early 1800s the witness accounts were seriously questioned and researched by scholars. It was determined sadistic pleasure was a far more likely motive for her crimes.
Eventually, word of these horrors reached the Hungarian Emperor, Matthias II and a raid was conducted on Bathory's castle in 1610. After discovering the charges might be true the Emperor immediately ordered the countess be placed on public trial. But, her aristocratic status did not allow her to be publicly arrested or executed and she admitted nothing. But her accomplices had no such royal protection and were burned alive.
Bathory was placed under house arrest in her castle and confined in a small walled up space with openings only large enough for jailors to pass her meals through. Elizabeth never uttered a single word of regret or remorse. She was found dead in her little prision 4 years later, August 21, 1614 around the age of 53-54.